Macbeth in sixty minutes. What sweeter words are there to those for whom Shakespeare is a taste not quite acquired (or those with only an hour to spare), especially when it’s Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group’s Macbeth, adapted and directed by Denise Devin. Now, that’s my way to see The Scottish Play (or Playlet as the case may be).
For a company that specializes in horror extravaganzas like Urban Death, Blistered Hands And Bloody Mouths, Whore’s Bath, and Attack Of The Rotting Corpses, The Bard Of Avon might seem a curious programming choice, but think again.
This is, after all, the same troupe of theater artists who gave L.A. shortened adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet, the latter of which scored A Noise Within’s Rafael Goldstein an LADCC Lead Actor nomination.
Don’t be surprised if a sensational Melissa Kite earns similar recognition for as thrilling a performance as Lady Macbeth as any Shakespeare lover (or even hater) could possibly wish for, and Amir Khalighi’s Macbeth is as electric as Macbeths get despite an initial tendency to rush lines.
I don’t know how adapter Devin has managed to compact a play usually running an hour-times-two to just an hour-and-change, but somehow it all holds together cohesively, with a mere nine actors playing twenty-six roles … and not a moment’s down time.
You’ve got your Three Witches (Arielle Davidsohn, understudy Devin, and Angela Robitaille), and because this is Zombie Joe’s, once they’ve emerged from their shared (and downright spooky) black cocoon, audiences get treated to a trio of bikini-wearing zombie sorceresses and not your tired old crones.
You’ve got King Duncan (Mark Hein) naming Macbeth Thane of Cawdor just as Ross (Jonica Patella) has said was about to happen, news which has Lady MacBee vowing to make her hubby King if it kills her. (Well, better said, if it kills anyone who gets in his way.)
You’ve got Duncan’s murder at the hands of the Macbeths, the murder victim’s surviving offspring Malcolm and Donalbain (Chandler Hudson and Hillary Freedman) then fleeing for their lives only to find themselves accused of the killing.
You’ve got Macbeth’s murder of fellow general Banquo (Brian Felsen), who then returns in ghostly form (and at Zombie Joe’s in full-frontal nudity that is not blink-and-you-miss-it), sending Banquo’s progeny Fleance (Davidsohn) on a flight out of town for safety’s sake.
You’ve got the Macbeths’ reign of terror, their victims piling up one after another, including Lady Macduff (Freedman) and Macduff’s son (Davidsohn), though not, unfortunately, Macbeth rival Macduff (Jason Britt) himself.
And you’ve got most, though thankfully not all, of the cast of characters, dead by lights down.
What you haven’t got is curtain calls, a disservice to a troupe of actors deserving applause for their nonstop (and almost uniformly terrific) dramatics.
As with Zombie Joe shows past, present, and presumably future, design means costumes, lighting, and sound (all by Devin in this case), and even in the barest of scenic design-free black boxes, this proves more than enough, with dramatic effects both visual and audio upping the excitement, drama, and suspense every step of the way, special snaps going to composer Kevin Van Cott’s pulsating musical underscoring and some Halloween-ready makeup designs.
Additional program credits are deservedly awarded to Angelia Weitzman (set design assistance), Hudson (fight captain), Amy Volker (assistant to the director, costume assistance), and Devin (dance choreography).
Macbeth is produced by Zombie Joe.
I’ve reviewed three productions of The Scottish Play in the past three years, and Zombie Joe’s is the one I’ve enjoyed most. Admittedly much of my thumbs-up is due to this Macbeth’s refreshingly abbreviated length, but without its splendid cast and striking design, even brevity wouldn’t account for much.
Briefly put, I had a bloody good time.
ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
May 10, 2015
Photos: Zombie Joe’s Underground